Chief Simon Okeke was chairman of Police Service Commission (PSC) during former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration. He speaks with IGHO OYOYO on the need for political will to properly fund the police and other matters
How would you describe the current security situation in the country?
The security situation in the country is deplorable, because principles in security are not been applied. Again, the people who are obligated to provide security do not do so effectively, because a lot of resources are lacking. They lack instruments and training. They are not properly trained on security matters. Look at the kidnapping of school children. Kidnapping is a new vocabulary in the security situation in Nigeria. It used to be something you read as fiction but today it has become the most lucrative venture. Now people believe that it is better to kidnap than break into banks, they just kidnap people demand ransom in millions and the money is dropped at their choosing. Unfortunately it has now become an acceptable way of living in Nigeria, in most parts of Nigeria and particularly in the North. Although, it happens in the South-South and South-East but not as much as the North and its really unfortunate.
As a former chairman of Police Service Commission, how best do you think we can handle the security situation?
The porosity and laxity which is observable in security agencies have made it very difficult for them to work. Also, the prevention of kidnapping is an act you learn to do, but the resources do not appear to be applied judiciously where they are supposed to be and the police is suffering. The Nigerian Police is the least paid in the world, and you do not provide adequate incentive for them to work. So for many, it’s a part-time job, because if they depend on what they earn, their family would starve. As the PSC chairman, I cried everyday to my boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, because these police officers are humans like you and I, they go to the same market as you and I. It reached a stage that Obasanjo would look at me and call me and ask, ‘Mr Welfare Police what is it?’
These are some of the defects we are having in security matters in the country, inadequate funding, especially the Police who are the least paid in the world. In fact, I can tell you that most of the allowances they earn now, came because Obasanjo allowed the improvement in their affair. Otherwise, police officers were paid N9000 a month. I tell you, if a police officer dies on duty, the total package that goes to him or his next of kin would not be enough to buy the coffin to convey him home. This is not even in addition to his family’s upkeep. Few months later his family would be kicked out of the barracks. Therefore, security needs proper funding. There is equipment which can be used in identifying kidnappers. I must give credence to some states like Anambra which have begun taking advantage of technology. The government needs to provide adequate resources to stop the hopeless insecurity situation in the country.
Do you think there is improvement in terms of police reforms now compared to when you were the PSC chairman?
A lot of reforms are still required, a lot is being done, and I believe a lot more has to be done. It is a continuous exercise and my determination when I took over the management of the police was to have a Nigerian Police that was people-oriented and one where people run to, not where people run from. If a policeman is to knock at a door and people start panicking, that is unfortunate. Because, people are supposed to feel comfortable when a policeman is around. My prayer was to create a people oriented and friendly police force, not a fearful or repulsive one, but I did not succeed in doing so.
However, I hope that one day we would accomplish that because, if the police is to function, it needs to be friendly, so as to get useful information, because its useful information that helps in security. People run away and are sceptical on giving information to the police, because the informant becomes the criminal, rather than the police using the information, it is manipulated against you. Some careless people within the force would leak the information and the informant becomes the victim. I tried to reform the police within the five years of my service. I brought professionals abroad, especially from the US State Security Service who actually cooperated as they also helped in the funding of some of our trainings, because the police lacked training, but there are still much to be done.